Welcome new year with the goal to unify nation

My mother read “Gone with the Wind” in late 1951 during her final months of pregnancy. She was so thrilled she gave birth to a daughter that she named me Tara.

Pressure mounted as classmates and peers asked, “What does your name mean?” I said, “It’s the name of a plantation in the South.” I wanted to change my name to Kathy, and upon disapproval, I quickly dropped the idea.

One day my mother asked if I wanted to see the movie “Gone with the Wind.” “Yes,” I said because I liked popcorn and Charleston Chews. The theater’s lobby had posters with men in army uniforms holding muskets, a woman wearing a dress with ruffles, and another woman wearing a dress with a hooped skirt, and I hoped to wear similar dresses one day.

I quickly forgot my hopes and desires because I lacked in-depth knowledge of the Civil War. I didn’t appreciate watching men in battle. I didn’t understand why people wanted to kill people. It all seemed senseless to me, and it still does. I remember feeling queasy while watching African-Americans pick cotton and sweating profusely in the cotton fields on Tara.

In the late 1970s, I completed a training program with a global hotel company and transferred to Charleston, S.C., from Boston. The Charlestonians were undoubtedly familiar with the name Tara and appeared impressed that my Yankee parents named me Tara.

Charleston’s Historic buildings, forts and statues piqued my curiosity. One building was the Exchange Building. While touring the historic landmark, visions of “Gone with the Wind” surfaced, most notably the slaves picking cotton on Tara and serving dinner to the O’Haras in their grand plantation home. I recall the paintings and pictures of slaves standing in front of the building with clunky, heavy chains wrapped around their wrists and sweat pouring out of their skin while white plantation owners were in bidding wars over them. It was the social norm for a white southerner to use the “N” word. I was shocked.

The tragic shooting in June 2015 of nine African-Americans at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston left me with a wrenched gut. The increase in violent white nationalism reminded me of actions taken by the Ku Klux Klan. The monument of John C. Calhoun, an advocate of slavery, has been removed from Marion Square, in the heart of historic downtown Charleston.

After five years in Charleston, I transferred to Richmond, Va., to work on a restoration project of the Jefferson Hotel. The main staircase in the Jefferson Hotel is a replica of the staircase in Tara’s plantation home in the movie “Gone with the Wind.” What a coincidence, I thought.

Four-plus decades have passed since my tenure in Richmond. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd’s killing triggered an outcry for change in Richmond. Within four days, Richmond was the first city in the Southeast to see protests and rioting. Within six weeks, the city dismantled four of the six Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. A year later, Richmond’s City Council voted to remove the monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Still standing is Richmond’s tennis star, Arthur Ashe.

Since May 2020, the Commonwealth of Virginia has extracted several confederate symbols, such as cannons, plaques and flags. Museums, historical societies and private property owners have purchased some, and some remain in storage. I feel conflicted over the removal of monuments but believe that, in this case, the confederate mindset has shifted to a more favorable position.

Thanks to my mom for naming me Tara because the ruffles and romance of “Gone with the Wind” connected me with the history of the Civil War and enabled me to know and feel the difference between equality and inequality.

Despite our attempts to unify, we remain a divided country, and the war on race is shaping our identity. The fundamental character of our nation is too important to ignore. Too many people have sacrificed their lives for equality. My wish for 2022 is for everyone to make a gesture to stop the divide in our country. A smile, and nod, and wishing everyone a happy holiday season can go a long way.

Tara Shannon divides her time between Loudonville and Dorset, Vt.




Tara Shannon

I am a wife, sister, reader, outdoor enthusiast, and quiet. I enjoy writing because I need clarity in my life.